Liu Shinan

Arms of the law must act stronger

By Liu Shinan (China Daily)
Updated: 2011-03-31 07:53
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After my last column - on China's need for harsher laws - was printed two weeks ago, many readers left comments online pointing out that what is really needed in this country is proper execution of the laws.

I totally agree with them. Actually I wrote a column about two or three years ago commenting on the poor enforcement of laws in China. One example I cited was the wanton use of the "emergency lane", or the shoulder of expressways, by motorists. Other media columnists have also written commentaries criticizing the traffic police for turning a blind eye to the phenomenon.

This practice is still with us. On Sunday I was driving on an expressway from a suburb to downtown Beijing when I hit a traffic jam, which was caused by a road accident a few hundreds yards ahead. Most vehicles inched along, but a few drivers passed quickly by on the hard shoulder ignoring the "No Driving on the Emergency Lane" sign behind the guardrail.

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An accident on the East Third Ring Road at the same time caused heavy gridlock, and the anchor on Beijing Traffic Radio said he saw from the monitoring camera a lot of cars driving on the emergency lane.

"You guys just wait to be issued a ticket by the police," uttered the anchorman.

But it seems that many motorists are not really afraid of getting a ticket, as so many of them choose to drive on the emergency lane whenever a jam begins to build up on the road.

Why are they so audacious even in front of the warning signs and surveillance cameras? There are only two possible reasons. Reason one, they are rich enough to ignore the fine; reason two, the ticket seldom - or never - comes.

Both of them point to the weakness of law enforcement and weakness of the law itself.

On February 19, Beijing's traffic authorities announced that they were going to crack down on the "10 major bad habits of road users". I was very pleased at the news because I have always felt - and I believe most other road users also feel - annoyed at these comparatively petty, but frequent infringements against traffic rules.

"Finally," I muttered to myself, "the police have moved to crack down on these nuisances."

However, sad to say nothing seems to have changed. People are still behaving the same way and getting away with it. I have not seen any offender being stopped and fined by a traffic policeman.

Of course, there are probably times officers have caught rule violators that I have not witnessed. But it is definitely safe to claim that these cases are much less frequent than those times when a wrongdoer got away with an offense. So many people are still violating traffic rules without any scruple that my claim is clearly not groundless.

People keep violating the rules because the price for violating the law is too low.

Take the behavior of driving in the emergency lane. The fine for this offense is 200 yuan ($30.5). For most Beijing citizens who own private cars, this sum of money is far from being a deterrent. And remember, the chance of getting caught is slim. A person who drives between his home in the suburbs and his office in downtown Beijing twice a day, five days a week, as hundreds of thousands of other while-collar workers do, will encounter traffic jams on the expressway every day. Suppose he has the habit of driving on the emergency lane three times a week, at least, and the chance of getting caught is one in ten - although given the fact that the emergency lane is never void of illegal users the odds must really be much lower - then his opportunity of being penalized is less than once a month. So he pays 13.89 yuan on average every time he uses the emergency lane. This is definitely not a heavy burden.

Of course, the offender also runs the risk of being given 3 demerit points, which is a rather significant penalty in the 12-point system. However, this just serves to prove that the chances of being penalized are low, given the fact that so many people are willing to commit the offense.

Imagine what those motorists who obey the rules think when they see so many other cars using on the emergency lane without being punished and overtaking them, lengthening their waiting time. Many will be encouraged to do the same next time.

Failing to punish law violators is not only unfair to law-abiding citizens but also encourages more people to ignore the law.

The author is assistant editor-in-chief of China Daily. E-mail: